Comparing German and English Wikipedia Articles on Language Death

In our Wikipedia seminar, we were given the task to compare Wikipedia articles in dif- ferent languages. I focused on the German and English version of the article on Sprachtod and language death.

Although both versions deal with the same topic, they are structured very differently. The long and detailed introduction in the German version, for example, does not appear very inviting to the reader. Yet, it offers a simple description that is easily explained; whereas the English version is initiated with an extensively long sentence, despite the complete header being relatively short. Besides, the introduction in English is explained very scientifically, so it is hard for the reader to understand it immediately.

The comparison of the two headers led me to the idea of investigating featured Wikipedia articles that are marked as excellent in one of the two given languages. What I found out was that articles in German which are marked as excellent, are not featured articles in the English version, and vice versa.

Further, I discovered that the featured articles in the English Wikipedia offer a rather long introduction that appears repulsive to the reader’s eye, but it is kept in simple and straightforward language, just as in the German article on Sprachtod. In the German Wikipedia the featured articles have a shorter header, which as well is written in easy and understandable language. I detected the common feature of simple explanation while comparing the articles on Autism/Autismus and Badminton/Badminton in English and German.

Concerning the articles on Sprachtod and language death, it is not only the introduction that varies in both languages. Also, the structure deviates in terms of length and subi- tems. The English version counts more than 1,500 words and has five subitems, whereas the German version has only half of the amount of words, as well as two further subi- tems. Even though the content in the English Wikipedia seems to be more detailed, both versions cover the most important aspects of language death, dealing with causes (included in the “types” section; in German: Ursachen) and types (included in the German introduction) of it, as well as consequences of, and measurements (Folgen und Maßnahmen) against language death.

Another striking difference is the amount of references in the two languages. While the English article thoroughly cites sixteen sources including books and links, the German version lists only two books and two weblinks.

In conclusion, we can see that both articles are well written and explained, although the English version appears more precisely elaborated and structured. However, the German article has its benefits concerning its comprehensible scientific language.

Julia Widera

Majoring in English Studies at University of Stuttgart.

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